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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 28 September 2018, 3:49 pm

Swings and roundabouts

It's 2025 and your auto-drive car slews sickeningly across a dark and rain-drenched road. You scrabble at the wheel as the car slides across the wet tarmac and disappears into the bush and scrub and if anyone was standing near by they would hear the car crash and bash its way to the bottom of the gully.

But no-one is near enough to hear and no-one is there to see your headlights dim and disappear.

The good news is, your phone and your car know exactly what's just happened and within seconds of you crashing have both followed emergency protocols and contacted the authorities. A GPS location of your incident is beamed directly to the first responders and your phone reports on your medical condition (well, your pulse and attitude since that's all your watch is telling it) so they know what to expect.

As the searchers arrive your car starts too toot its own horn and flash its headlights to guide them in and you are rescued, delivered safe and mostly sound to the loving bosom of your family.

Your phone lets your calendar know there's been a problem and to reschedule your meetings tomorrow, and your car reports in to the mechanic so they have a heads-up of the accident so they can contact you to sort out any repairs.

Thanks, technology. You've saved the day.

But then… it's also 2025 and you're attending a business meeting in the city. While you wait for your colleague to arrive you loiter in the café and order a coffee and wonder what all those people outside are shouting about. It turns out to be a political march demanding something or other, but you're not sure what, so you Google the phrases you see on the banners. Five minutes later the shouting is much louder angrier and now there are police officers telling everyone to disperse and there's a lot of yelling and you think, better off out of it. You make to leave, but the mob has formed and you barely get away before the police start firing tear gas and busting heads. Cars are overturned, windows broken and it's all a bit of a pig's ear really.

It gives you a great story to tell your mates, until of course the police start to round up everyone who was involved and those who got away. You're just sitting down to dinner when they kick in the front door and drag you out of the house. They've checked your phone records - you were definitely there and you were involved and mingled with people who committed a crime. Tell it to the judge, they say as they add you to the growing number of people in the paddy wagon.

Thanks, technology. You've ruined my day.

Of course, both scenarios are far-fetched. It's unlikely your car will be self-driving by 2025 or that your phone will be quite that smart. But it's not far off and to be honest, I do enjoy having a phone that tells me "it'll take 25 minutes to get home at this time of night". I'd like it more if it directed me to a less congested route, to be honest.

But my phone does report my location to the network constantly (otherwise I wouldn't get phone calls, text messages, tweets and everything else) and these days the network can pin me down to a fairly accurate location. And, with the state of the nation-state these days, it's not going to be long before my metadata is made available on an ongoing basis to Those Who Need To Know. Who was I standing near, what did I search for, who did I message, who called me… they may need a warrant for the content but there's so much they can ask for that isn't covered by that concept, and there are a lot of "Them" out there.

Bulk data collection can certainly help. It can help governmental-level planning for infrastructure development like roads, housing developments, tourism destinations and so on.

But bulk data that has been collected might then turn out to be used for all kinds of things we're not so happy about. Freedom of movement and freedom of association are critical elements of any democracy and ours is no exception. Today's government might seem liberal and enlightened (or not, your mileage may vary) but philosophically it's a long way from the governments of the early 1970s, let alone earlier in terms of personal freedoms and what is and isn't acceptable behaviour. Would someone fighting for the right to get divorced today be subject to surveillance? I would suspect not. But in the 1900s, it was frowned upon to put it mildly. The world has moved on and we need to move with it. Yesterday's battles were about the Homosexual Law Reform Bill, a phrase so clumsy and out of step with today that it's quite hard to write. Today's battles are about euthanasia and marijuana legalisation. A couple of decades ago what is considered acceptable today was not only illegal but actively policed.

Would we have developed as we have if the police and other authorities had access to tracking data of this kind? I suggest the simple idea that we might be tracked and caught in an electronic net would have a stifling effect on democracy.

Swings and roundabouts abound. Our policy makers will need to address this issue in the near future and if we're not to have a CTO any time soon then our politicians had better get up to speed because 2025 isn't too far away, however you look at it.

Stuff - Government agencies turn to Google, Spark data to try and solve Auckland's traffic woes

Stuff - Phone data to help manage crowds at Auckland's visitor hot spots

Privacy International - UK intelligence agency admits unlawfully spying on Privacy International (in case you thought it was all hyperbole)

 

I'd like to procure…

Procurement. It's one of those subjects that really does just lift the tone of the conversation.

Oh sorry, I may have nodded off there. Where was I?

Oh yes, procurement.

No, sorry. Did it again.

I know, let's sex it up a bit.

Her TXT messages!

OK, enough tom-foolery. While the CTO debacle winds down or winds up or whatever the quantum state is for a process that is now going in a different direction (widdershins?), we're still left with a need to reform the way central government buys tech stuff.

It's almost as if the settings used by CIOs are based on self-preservation and never doing anything that might lead to an outcome. Any kind of outcome.

The upshot of a lot of that is limited participation by New Zealand companies, poor technical solutions offered by companies that are on some kind of list of "yup, they're not so bad" providers, a lack of post implementation reviews and a lot of overspending in areas that never quite result in over-delivery of services.

All told it's a bit of a dog's breakfast.

Dave Lane has a crack at offering a solution (well done, Dave. Focus on the solution) and we've also got a new government Marketplace for ICT that is starting small (software as a service solutions) but could end up being bigger than Ben-Hur (the 1959 classic, not the insipid remake).

We can but hope.

Meanwhile, less than 24 hours ago, the Auditor General's office has put out a guide to procurement processes for government agencies as part of its annual plan.

This focus on spending is a very important one. Government is the single largest buyer of IT and IT services in the country and the need to get it right is paramount.

Here's hoping this is the start of a brave new world.

Techblog - Fixing government IT procurement

Techblog - Fixing government IT procurement - Part II

Techblog - ICT marketplace opens for business

Auditor General - Introducing our work around procurement

Auditor General - Annual Plan

 

Procurement.jpg

 

Life moves pretty fast…

It's good to look back to see how far we've all come.

When you're climbing that last hill and want to catch your breath, taking a look back across the valley to the point you started from is a lovely way to spend your time.

Likewise, now we have a fibre-to-the-home model it's good to look back at what life was like before it all began. The dark distant past of pre-2010.

Do you remember pre-2010? I do. We almost had local loop unbundling, although Telecom reallllly didn't want to do it so was shutting down exchanges as fast as they were opened up.

We almost had competition, but not really because everyone was selling the same product at the same price point.

We almost had regulation, but it was quite light handed, although when Telecom launched its fabulous "loyalty" offer (if you unbundle our network you don't get it but if you agree to wear a tutu and dance a little jig we'll let you buy products slightly more cheaply than before) the Telecommunications Commissioner did step in and put a stop to it.

All told though, it was pretty miserable.

For $50 a month you could get a rip-snorting 2Mbit/s download copper connection (upload was a soothing 128kbit/s) and a 1 gigabyte cap for the month.

I've used more than 1GB just researching this newsletter. My kids use 1GB just doing their homework each night.

I remember my first broadband plan (paid for by work, naturally) came with 600MB of data per month and when I broke that limit once (ONCE! How did that not happen every day?!) I doubled the bill from my provider.

Oh you tell the kids today and they just don't believe you.

We've come an awfully long way, although I see some of the old fights are starting to come around for a second bite of the cherry. Chorus is still suggesting customers could pay $35,000 to get a connection put on. Challengers like Orcon and Vodafone are still talking about unbundling, although now it's unbundling the fibre connection.

But still, as they say, it's good.

Now to get the same connections and prices out to the rest of the country. Three quarters done is still one quarter shy of where we could be (barring that 1% who don't actually want broadband and think the contrails are there to block the 1080 from fluoridating our water. They're not allowed on the new internet).

Techblog - Comparing broadband pricing - pre-LLU to post-UFB

Stuff - $35K to install fibre in Auckland suburb just 15 minutes from business centre


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